Building a home toolbox


Every house should contain a home toolbox. They are like first-aid kits for all these pesky little repairs that must be done, often, at the most inconvenient times.

You may not want to call a plumber on a Sunday afternoon about a leaking faucet, but if you don’t have at least a screwdriver and a crescent wrench it will drive you crazy with the constant drip-drip… while gallons of water are wasted down the drain.

Now, not all toolboxes are created equal. For a professional mechanic, they can cost seven thousand dollars or more.  Some of most expensive, from Snap On and Mac, look like NASA workstations. They have sound systems and could even be outfitted for computer and diagnostic equipment. And the owners may fill them and still not have all the widgets they need, or think they need.

But for the average person, a toolbox doesn’t need to be that expensive or sophisticated. A few well selected tools will suffice.

For Sarah “Sacre” Rand, a licensed esthetician, a toolbox is more than a place to store hammers and nails.

“Owning a toolbox makes me feel empowered,” said Rand. “As a single mother with two kids, I had to learn how to fix things around the house, and I discovered that I was really good at it. As a result, I now have a very complete toolbox. I have wrenches, screwdrivers and many kinds of nails, bolts and screws. And I can do all sort of jobs…no need of calling a handyman!”

According to Jason Rathbun, a furniture maker and UNM instructor, a home toolbox should include:
A claw hammer for pounding and pulling nails, and for moving anything that doesn’t want to move.
A pair of pliers for bending or cutting wire.
A set of end wrenches to take care of nuts and bolts.
Two crescent wenches, also called adjustable wrenches, for loosening nuts and bolts of any size.
A flat screwdriver for putting in or removing screws, opening paint cans and prying.
A Phillips screwdriver.
A small pry bar.
A few sharp chisels for removing wood or plaster, if needed.
A small selection of screws and nails.
A pipe wrench for twisting pipes.

A few shims (cunas) for leveling.
A  24″ level.
A good pencil.
A 16″ tape measure.
A 12″ combination square for marking 45 and 90 degree cuts.
Duct tape.
Electrical tape.
WD-40 in a spray can (this is a kind of oil used to lubricate hinges.)
A utility knife.
A paint brush.
“These tools will help to hang pictures, fix basic electrical problems, take care of basic plumbing problems, squeaky hinges on doors and many more,” said Rathbun. “I personally could not live without a tape measure and a pencil, but a hammer and lots of nails are also very handy.”

A regular home toolbox, depending on the personality of the owner, can be a well organized, tidy unit or it can look like Fibber McGee’s closet.

“A way to keep your tools in place is to ‘shadow’ them, which means painting an outline or creating a foam cutout of the tool in the toolbox and putting the tool there every time,” said Gary James, a retired aircraft mechanic and the proud owner of three toolboxes. “Also, keep track of what you already have; this way you won’t be buying the same tool over and over, as it so often happens with toolbox junkies. And don’t forget to clean your tools before you put them away, and to keep the toolbox clean as well. The toolbox is a tool, too.”

The tools in the personal toolbox reflect the experience and the needs of the owner. Nowadays, beginning toolbox owners can buy starter kits with most of the basic tools mentioned in Rathbun’s list in outlets like Sears and Wall-mart, which may be less expensive than acquiring each tool separately.

“Many good deals on new and reconditioned tools can be found online,” said James. “Northern Tool and Equipment ( is a good place to start. Garage sales and flea markets are great options, too. You just need to take the time to check everything out.”

The companion to every toolbox should be a good library of self help books— electrical wiring manuals, carpentry manuals, etc. James recommends The Toolbox Book: A Craftsman’s Guide to Tool Chests, Cabinets, and Storage Systems by Jim Tolpin (Taunton Press, 1998).

“Owning a well-stocked toolbox and knowing how to use it guarantees that you will always have the right tool for the right job,” said James.